Tech Report:Netbooks vs. Full-sized Laptops

I have some traveling to do this summer, coupled with a tight deadline and unrealistically-high expectations for my own output. And the thought of dragging around my big, heavy laptop made me groan. Besides, when I go to meetings of the writers' group where I'm the program chair, I invariably forget something (upcoming meeting schedule, the speaker's introduction, uh, the speaker's name), which makes me feel incompetent, scatter-brained, and embarrassed until I bum someone else's computer to look the stuff up online. So I told myself I needed one of those cute little netbooks I've been seeing people tool around with.

But honestly, I just really wanted one, because I've seen a few and fell in love with them. Normally, I sit on my hands until a tech-envy moment passes. I keep myself on a tight budget, and try to differentiate needs from wants.

This time, however, the thought of trying to haul the big laptop (which has recently gone through three motherboards and two power supplies) through the airports convinced me, and I went ahead and ordered an 8.9-inch blue Acer Aspire One, the kind with the 6-cell battery and Windows XP, because I don't want to fool with learning Linux.

After playing with it for a few days, here are a few thoughts.

1. Outstanding battery life with the six cell. Better yet, the screen doesn't dim like my Dell's does on battery (you can barely make out the screen), so I can actually see what I'm doing and happily haul it around unplugged.
2. Portability - about 2.3 lbs. compared to over 7. I can pop it in a little cover and slip in into a larger handbag or a tote, no problem.
3. Sleek, without a lot of sticky-outty whatsits (that's the official, high-tech phrase) to catch on everything, so it easily slips in and out of its protector.
4. Cute and cool-looking. I'm usually about four generations behind any tech wave, so it's kind of fun to have the latest little doodad. (Well, not the very latest, but something pretty close that I could actually afford.)

1. Teeny screen vs. middle-aged eyesight. It's sharp and clear, and I have good glasses, but this could cause strain if I used it full-time.
2. Teeny keyboard vs. middle-aged hands. The 8.9" keyboard's a bit cramped even for my small hands. I've noticed I was accidentally hitting the number row when attempting to hit the "QWERTY" row of keys. More troubling, my hands and fingers ached from the strain of the smaller board. Thank heavens I didn't try for the 7" model!
3. Touchpad "pinch" feature was randomly selecting and then enlarging or shrinking text on the screen, and I had no idea how to turn it off or even what it was. Which leads me to the biggie:
4. Worst tech support ever. Unlike Dell, Acer has a website that's not at all user friendly and the only support available was via e-mail. The first tech who wrote back about my problem didn't write in English well enough to comprehend, clearly didn't know what my problem was, and said (once I got a translation from a second tech after I sent a rude, frustrated e-mail) that it was a software, not an Acer issue. Plus, he encouraged me to use their phone tech support line for an exorbitant amount of money. There were no helpful user forum, but I finally found something at another site online (thank God for helpful geeks) that showed me how to successfully turn off the "pinch" feature on the touchpad (which doesn't work well with that tiny pad).
5. You have to buy an external CD drive if you want to be able to load your own software. Otherwise, it'll cost a boatload of bucks to repurchase programs such as MS Word, which I already legally own. Fortunately, external CD drives are fairly inexpensive, but it was an unexpected added expense. And I'm cheap, remember?
6. Slower than my full-sized laptop, with only 1 GB of RAM. You wouldn't want to use it for anything more memory intensive than writing, e-mail, or browsing the web. Which is exactly what the thing's for anyway.

The bottom line:
Now that I've turned off the annoying-as-heck pinch function, I love this little netbook. It's perfect for working at Starbucks or the library, hauling to take notes at a meeting, or taking along while traveling by air.

What it isn't is a replacement for my larger, faster, more comfortable-to-use (if temperamental) full-sized laptop. So if you keep your expectations realistic (and aren't unlucky enough to need a lot of tech support), the Acer Aspire One could be a nice addition to your toolkit.


Joni Rodgers said…
We're so techy this week! Thanks for breaking it down, Colleen. I've been debating this issue since my last laptop replacement. The new one gets mighty heavy between subway stops...
We *are* the low-tech techsters this week. :)

I'll bring my netbook tonight and let you check it out. With all your travel, I think you'd love one.
Suzan Harden said…
Cool! Can the rest of us see at the next RWA meeting?

I love my Dell 710. DVD drive and full-size keyboard at only four pounds. Plus my son, put the battery life to the test while sitting on the tarmac for three hours in Columbus, Ohio, then three hours on the flight back to Houston. Any laptop we buy from now on must be able to play 3 Shrek and/or Pixar movies before the battery croaks.
That 4-lb. Dell sounds great, Suzan. Great battery life (unlike my heavier Dell), and for sure, they have better tech support - something I've made a lot of use of with my 1 1/2 y.o. laptop lately. (Both Dell desktops I've owned have been more reliable.)

And yes, I'll be bringing the netbook to the WHRWA meeting.

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